Candidates were debating, donations were pouring in, and volunteers were canvassing. The 2020 campaign season was in full swing and political candidates were gaining momentum going into their primaries. Everything seemed ideal.
That is, until it all came to a screeching halt.
As COVID-19, commonly referred to as coronavirus, infiltrated America, a state of emergency that resounded across the whole country was set off. Schools closed, events were canceled, and people panicked. Americans isolated themselves in their homes in fear of spreading or contracting the virus.
With no volunteers able to canvass or attend rallies, political candidates had to make a difficult decision. A decision that they could never fathom making — suspending all in-person campaign activities.
To gain campaign support, meeting and talking to voters face to face is crucial. But COVID-19 stripped candidates of this opportunity. Forced to move entirely online, political campaigns face an unprecedented challenge of gaining support from voters while being entirely behind a screen.
Campaigning Goes All-Digital
Tasked with getting their message out, campaigns have deployed a variety of tactics. These tactics include text banking, phone banking, webinars, virtual town halls, and a variety of other methods.
As a volunteer for several different political campaigns during this outbreak, I’ve seen first-hand the struggles and obstacles accompanying these voter outreach methods. Technical difficulties and testy voters make an already onerous process more difficult. Political candidates and campaigns are tasked with navigating an environment where many voters are unable to focus on any upcoming election amid fears of COVID-19, thus making it difficult to arouse enthusiasm for a particular candidate.
Q&A With 7th District Congressional Candidate Nabilah Islam
To get a better insight into how COVID-19 has affected campaigning, and how it will affect upcoming elections, I conducted an interview via email with candidate Nabilah Islam, the progressive Democrat running for Congress in Georgia’s 7th District.
VOX ATL: How has COVID-19 impacted how you are able to connect with voters and gain their support?
Nabilah Islam: COVID-19 has dramatically reshaped how we are campaigning. We are a grassroots campaign that understands that you win when you can meet voters face to face. However, we are living in a time where connecting with voters in person can prove to be potentially lethal. So we are reaching voters where they are now: online and their phones. We have over 100 volunteers who are actively texting and phone banking voters right now. We are hosting virtual town halls to keep our community informed and earn their support.
VOX ATL: What has been the biggest challenge in campaigning and reaching out to constituents during this troubling time?
Islam: Voter contact is definitely the biggest challenge. We are being creative and using all digital tools and social media to connect with as many voters in the district. Communication is key in any election and even though we can’t have face-to-face conversation, we will make every effort otherwise to get our message out.
VOX ATL: How do you think COVID-19 will impact voter turnout and participation in the upcoming elections?
Islam: It is hard to say how voter turnout will be impacted. This is the first time that every voter has received an absentee ballot request. Historically, Georgians typically do not vote by mail in large numbers unlike some other states. It is my hope now that people are self-quarantined and they are paying attention to the news everyday that they will exercise their right to vote and vote for the change we desperately need. I am concerned that people are not being given paid postage to mail either their absentee ballot request or actual ballot which will prevent some people from voting. Do you have a stamp right now? If not, how inclined are you to go put your life in danger to purchase them?
Voting May Happen Differently
There is no doubt that COVID-19 has drastically affected the way political candidates are campaigning and reaching out to voters. Grassroots campaigns are struggling to gather support due to the inability to meet voters face to face, and campaigns have had to communicate with voters in new and innovative ways. Many candidates are wary of how COVID-19 will affect voter turnout. Voters, meanwhile, are having to ask themselves how they will leave their house to vote or afford to send in their absentee ballots.
This challenging campaign season will certainly make for an unprecedented election.